On Monday 2 March, the storytelling group met at Highgate Library in a reasonably upbeat mood. We washed our hands thoroughly and replaced handshakes and hugs with Dr Spock inspired hand greetings and elbow nudges.

How different it was the following week. It was time for social distancing, and we took a picnic to the nearby Queen’s Woods. 

The sun’s rays streamed through a leafy canopy. We found a huge old tree that had come down in a storm, laid a blanket on the ground and ate our food. We were accompanied by Ashira the dog, who made off with many more potatoes than she was allowed.

The place was beautiful, and it lifted our spirits. But we were worried. This would be the last workshop until who knew when? How would people cope? What was in store? How could the Cotton Tree continue to support the group?

The storytelling group is sharing ideas about how to stay safe and connected through this crisis. We are bound by the philosophies of ubuntu (“I am a person through other people”) and eudaimonia (“good spirit”). Our members need food, friendship and hope, as well as interesting things to do, just like everyone else at this difficult time.

Under the canopy, we talked about Peter Wohlleben’s amazing book The Hidden Life of Trees. It shows that ubuntu isn’t only about people; it’s also about trees.

Trees are social creatures like us. If they could talk, they would say, “I am a tree through other trees.” They support and nourish each other underground. They warn each other of dangers.

Excerpts from The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben  

"Why are trees such social beings? If every tree were looking out for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age… Every tree would suffer…"

"Every tree is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover."

"… look around where you live. What dramas are being played out in wooded areas you can explore? What can you hear? What do you see? How do you feel?"

"Trees are important, but when trees unite to create a fully functioning forest, you can really say that the whole is bigger than its parts…."

Trees are individual yet connected, like us. During this crisis we shall protect each other through personal and group connections. Regular updates, outdoor meetings, WhatsApp chats, essential funds… We shall be a Cotton Tree forest, and we shall thrive through creative new connections!

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Many of our members are at risk of being affected by the spread of Covid-19 due to age and pre-existing medical conditions. Help us support them during this difficult time.  

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